Why Schools Need Clear Communications
- By Kelly Lake
- September 15, 2022
For many students, every school year begins with new backpacks, books, and excitement for a fun school year. For educators and school security teams, there is hope for a successful school year, as well, but also there are concerns about keeping students safe.
Security teams employ a vast amount of security technology to mitigate threats and to secure their schools. Those security technology solutions include video surveillance cameras, access control, visitor management, a video management system (VMS), alarms, and more. Many schools even have metal detectors, facial recognition, panic buttons, and software that can be used to analyze keywords in social media feeds.
All that is great: It’s solid technology that can help your security team to see activity in and around the school and to control access. It also provides a security team with analytics and data. It’s what many school security teams have relied upon for years.
But there may be something missing—a solution that enables clear communications, specifically designed to secure the facility and detect and respond to security incidents. The best tools available for this are IP intercoms and bi-directional public address equipment, which are often overlooked in a school’s security technology strategy.
In an emergency, video surveillance may show a scene, yet someone is not likely to run to a video camera when they need assistance. Instead, they are more likely to yell or scream: “I need help!” or “Help me!”
Will that individual be clearly heard? Will they also hear instructions on what to do or where to go, or hear that help is on the way? As humans, we instinctively respond more quickly to real-time voice and audio compared to images on signs or written instructions.
Overall, what safety and security risks are not being identified when a security guard, students, staff, and visitors can only see or be seen, but cannot be heard or spoken to?
When it comes to security technology, it’s easy to say, “I’m using everything to its full potential,” or “Everything works just fine.” But in today’s risk environment of schools, is your communications technology really being used to its full potential? Are you communicating clearly to every corner of your campus? Today’s IP intercoms and public address systems allow you to provide crystal clear communications that extend throughout the campus and out to the perimeter.
Getting to Clear Communications
In recent years, the use of IP communications for safety and security has steadily increased. As intercom and PA systems evolved into IP network-based technology, audio clarity and intelligibility has increased, and new systems can adapt to any environment, no matter how noisy. IP intercoms, speakers, and horns can provide protection and address security concerns in new ways.
Early intercoms in schools were about convenience and used only for easy communication to classrooms. They made it easy for school administration to communicate with teachers and students. Remember the campus-wide announcements that started each school day (and still do), or a student being called to the office? Some schools also began using intercoms for rudimentary visitor management, to ensure that only authorized visitors entered a school and then received an ID badge to move to a classroom or other area.
Intercom usage today, however, has become more critical than ever to ensuring the safety of our schools. It has advanced to protecting exterior and interior doors with a combination of audio and built-in video, to providing a known location to get assistance in emergency stanchions, and to enabling instant contact (and communication) to and with security personnel.
IP communication platforms have also evolved to fully integrate with video cameras, access control, visitor management systems, and other security technologies. For example, at a school entrance, intercom solutions with HD voice and video can be used to identify unknown visitors or vendors and help school staff and security teams quickly determine whether the individual should enter the school. Video intercoms can also be integrated with facial recognition, ensuring that a parent or caretaker can be recognized as someone who is authorized to be there.
Moving out into a school’s outer areas, IP-based public address speakers are easy to install and offer excellent two-way communications, in all conditions. Using video surveillance, school security teams can see an individual trying to enter the school perimeter and either determine, through audio, why they are there, or direct them to leave. School staff also gain the ability to communicate to outdoor areas like student drop-off zones or athletic fields and playgrounds.
Exterior fences and gates may still be on school property but located quite a distance away from a school’s buildings. Intercom solutions with HD audio and video can be mounted on the fence or wall near these entrances to school grounds so that school security teams can identify individuals from a distance. Security teams can also protect areas that are more difficult to patrol, such as garages, parking lots and stairwells, in addition to secondary or external doors that are not used as often.
Emergency stanchions don’t have to only be used for emergencies. They can be employed to provide a visual and audible indicator outside of a school’s entrances and exit points. They can also be employed within school parking lots, which typically are outside of a school’s entrance and exit areas. Once activated by the user, campus security can pull up a video feed to see and hear who wants access to the school or needs assistance.
Post-event, audio recordings from intercoms or PA speakers can help to correctly re-create the incident and the response. An individual’s recollection of an event can often be unreliable. How often have we heard someone say: “I don’t recall,” or “I didn’t see it”? Audio from the intercoms can add clarity to the event and the investigation.
Clear Intercom Communications
When evaluating intercom and public address solutions, it’s important to ensure that they provide clear and intelligent communications, no matter the environment. Advanced solutions can also clearly detect voices, high noise levels, or other sounds.
Creating clear communications requires intelligent software features that adapt to the nearby environment. They include acoustic echo cancellation, which enables both people to talk at the same time, even at high volumes (95dB). Automatic gain control will take a voice that is too loud or too weak and level it out to an undistorted and clear signal. Automatic volume control will listen to the noise level in the area and automatically adjust the volume to ensure voices are easily heard. Noise cancellation reduces the background noise and means that the user does not need to speak directly into the microphone in order to be heard.
For the very best audio quality, the physical design of the intercom matters, too. A traditional intercom speaker design will include two overlapping stainless-steel plates, which will trap some of the sound waves between them and create distortion. Instead, the speaker grille should incorporate an anechoic, circular design where there’s no reflection of sound waves as they pass through the station’s faceplate. The result is crystal clear audio at any volume.
The exterior should also feature a solid aluminum, die-cast frame and an acoustically transparent poke screen to defend it from tampering.
When the intercom features built-in video, the camera should incorporate a wide-angle lens and strong low-light performance to deliver excellent image quality, day or night. A wide Field of View will capture more of the area around the intercom station, and a 30-per-second frame rate provides a natural look for any movement caught on the camera.
Lastly, the intercom stations and IP speakers should feature a fast data processor, which translates into stability, uptime, and a long product lifetime. That efficiency in data processing also provides the opportunity for additional product integrations and future development.
It is meaningless to install an intercom and communications system if the audible announcements and messages being delivered can’t be heard or understood in every situation. It’s time to embrace a solution that offers audio and voice technology that allows people to hear, be heard and be understood, in every situation. Overall, by investing in a communications platform that provides the best possible audio quality, you are equipping security teams with a powerful tool that can mitigate security threats and provide value for many years to come.
What is the value of clear communications in schools? It’s the ability of all individuals to be heard. As humans, we all deserve it. Will the students, faculty, and visitors in your school be clearly heard this year?
This article originally appeared in the September / October 2022 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.